April 6, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 3:19-23 (NRSV)
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
How can I trust God when I’m suffering? The Bible doesn’t give us easy, pat answers to the problem of suffering. But it does acknowledge both the reality of pain and the presence of God in the midst of pain. When we suffer, we may not have the answers we desire, but we can know the presence and compassion of God.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
How can I trust God when I’m suffering?
I expect you’ve heard this question before, surely from others, perhaps from your own heart. One of the hardest things in life is to remain faithful to God in times when God seems distant and uncaring, times when suffering is painful, even unrelenting. In times like these, we ask, “How can I trust God when I’m suffering?”
To be sure, there are no easy answers to the problem of suffering. Christians believe in a loving, gracious, all-powerful God. We also affirm the reality of suffering. Thus, we can feel caught between affirmations that seem irreconcilable. For centuries theologians and philosophers have sought to come up with acceptable solutions to the problem of suffering and evil. Some believe they have succeeded. Others are not convinced.
Furthermore, it’s one thing to wrestle with the problem of suffering from a safe philosophical distance and quite another thing to do so when you’re experiencing great pain, either in your own life or in the lives of those for whom you care. Even the best philosophical responses to the problem of pain can fail to satisfy our souls when our bodies are aching or our hearts are breaking. I know this both from my own experience and from my years as a pastor. People in pain understandably ask, “If God loves me and God is good, why is God letting me go through this horrible situation? Why doesn’t God do something?”
Though the problem of pain is not easily dismissed, God has given us resources to help us when we wrestle with suffering. I will mention one of these today and another tomorrow.
One of the most helpful resources God gives us when we suffer is the Bible. Though this book does not give easy answers that we suppose might satisfy us, and though the Bible does not provide philosophical proofs, it does offer insights, testimonies, and experiences that guide us in our thoughts and comfort us in our pain. For one thing, the Bible testifies to the fact of suffering. We see this in Lamentations, of course, but also in so many other biblical books. Scripture teaches us that suffering is not imaginary, but rather an inescapable part of existence in a world broken by sin. If you read the Bible, you cannot help but recognize how it affirms the reality and pervasiveness of suffering.
The Bible also affirms that suffering is not part of God’s intentions for us. Though God can certainly use suffering for good, God did not create the world as a place of pain. Genesis 3 reveals that pain comes after human beings sinned, thus shattering God’s broken world. Romans 8 shows that suffering is part of the “groaning” of this world (Romans 8:18-23). So, when we witness or experience suffering, we rightly sense that something is not right with the world. Moreover, we rightly long for the day when God will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). In the meanwhile, however, tears are an unavoidable part of our lives. They accompany the suffering that fills our world.
Scripture also offers words of assurance when we hurt or doubt. We rightly receive for ourselves the promise once given to Israel: “[D]o not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). As Jesus said to his first disciples, he says to us today: “[R]emember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The presence of God in the midst of our suffering doesn’t necessarily reduce our pain, though sometimes God does heal broken bodies. But the presence of God in our suffering does help to redeem our pain, even if it doesn’t remove it. I met recently with a friend who has endured terribly painful relational wounds within her family system. She has been wronged and hurt in dreadful ways for many years. As I talked with her about all she has experienced, I expressed how sorry I was for what has happened to her. Her response was not what I expected. “Yes, it’s been terrible,” she said, “but God has been with me in it. In fact, I have sensed God’s closeness in such amazing ways and I have grown so much in my faith that I wouldn’t want things to have gone differently.” I know this woman well, and know that she wouldn’t say this if it weren’t true. In the midst of her suffering, God has not shown her why such painful things have happened. But God has been with her, showing her transformational love and grace. Thus, my friend could affirm God’s faithfulness even in a time of suffering, rather like the writer of Lamentations.
May the Lord give you this grace when you’re going through difficult and painful times!
What helps you understand suffering?
What has helped you remain faithful when life has been hard?
What passages of Scripture have been particularly encouraging to you as you have experienced pain in life?
Take some time to reflect on Isaiah 41:10, “[D]o not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” You may even wish to memorize this verse so you can carry it with you at all times.
Gracious God, sometimes it is hard to believe in you, or to believe that you are a good, loving God. The problem of suffering is one of the toughest for our minds to fathom. And the experience of suffering can batter our faith like a devastating hurricane.
Thank you, Lord, for not leaving us without help . . . though, honestly, there are times when I wish your help was more obvious. Still, I thank you for the gift of Scripture, for the clear affirmation in your Word of the reality of suffering, and your plan to ultimately abolish it. Thank you for passages that offered hope to your people long ago, even as they continue to give me hope today.
Help me, Lord, to hang onto your Word no matter what. I pray in the name of Jesus, the Word Incarnate. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Babylon and the New Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Cities (Revelation 17-22)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.